El Salvador: Organizations express concern about the increase in digital violence against Women Human Rights Defenders


The COVID-19 measures put in place by the government of El Salvador have fostered a violent and hostile environment that hinders the work of Women Human Rights Defenders

19 June 2020 - The undersigned organizations denounce the alarming increase in attacks against organizations and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) since the government of the El Salvador’s measures in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis. Of particular concern are attacks in the digital sphere. This has created a violent and hostile environment for WHRDs and hinders their work.

The Nayib Bukele government’s use of Information and Communication Technologies as a primary tool for transmitting institutional information is noteworthy. The President has also taken to digital media to delegitimize those who criticize his policies, including messages that discredit human rights organizations and use misogynist language. 

According to the information gathered in the Regional Monitoring System of Attacks against WHRDs (1), after the measures decreed in the context of COVID-19, there has been an increased in governmental statements and positions that put human rights defenders at risk, particularly those who have a presence in social media and networks.

The increase in gender-based violence in the digital sphere is particularly concerning. The Regional Monitoring System shows an increase in the number of WHRDs who denounce cyber-harassment, defamation, threats and public discrediting. WHRDs and journalists (primarily those who have publicly denounced alleged irregularities o disagreements in the government’s management of the crisis) have stated that they are being targeted by smear campaigns with a high component of gender violence. They also point out that some of the messages come from social media accounts belonging to public officials, persons who are close to the current government, or the official Party (2). 

Additionally, the Journalists’ Association of El Salvador (APES for its acronym in Spanish) presented its quarterly report on 3 May, describing 54 cases of freedom of the press violations. The report states that 39 of these incidents took place during the March-May emergency and that at least 9 of them were directed at women, identifying acts like restrictions to journalism work, digital attacks, and removal of access to public information.

Other human rights violations that are frequently denounced in the context of the pandemic are police abuse and exclusion from State services that guarantee access to basic rights. WHRDs have not been spared these forms of violence, and the WHRD Network in El Salvador has documented cases such as those of Sara Yamileth Benítez and Ana Cristina Barahona, two WHRDs who were detained and accused of breaking the lock-down when they were purchasing food and medicine.

The essential role of organizations and human rights defenders in promoting recognition of human rights and constitutional rights and guarantees in the country is particularly important in the context of the pandemic.

For this reason, we demand that the authorities in El Salvador immediately adopt all the necessary measures to guarantee the exercise of rights and the respect of constitutional guarantees and international law. 

Additionally, and responding to the importance of exercising freedom of expression and the right to defend rights, we request: 

  • To the President and officials of the Executive Branch, that they abstain from publishing messages that stigmatize human rights defenders and journalists and puts them at risk, as well as messages that promote discrimination against women.
  • To the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Defense, to take measures to prevent the arbitrary and excessive use of force by agents of the National Civil Police and Armed Forces.
  • To the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsperson for Human Rights Defenders (PDDH in Spanish), to swiftly investigate the complaints lodged by human rights defenders and journalists about acts that may constitute crimes.
  • To the Institute for Women’s Development of El Salvador, the PDDH, and the General Prosecutor’s Office, to investigate violence and discrimination due to human rights defense activities and the exercise of freedom of expression, as well as the arbitrary detention of women, some of whom are mothers, who leave their homes to purchase food and medicine, and whose young children are now in a vulnerable situation without their primary care-givers at home.
  • That the National Civil Police conduct their work in the context of the crisis adhering strictly to human rights, with a gender perspective, and taking into account that care-giving work, community protection and defense in crisis situations is often led by women.

We also demand that international human rights organisms remain vigilant to this type of events and respond to the serious human rights abuses that WHRDs are facing in El Salvador.

Signing Organizations

  1. Access Now, Global
  2. Acoso Online, Iberoamérica 
  3. Agrupación por la Despenalización del Aborto, El Salvador
  4. AIETI, España
  5. Aluna Acompañamiento Psicosocial, AC, México
  6. Amigos de la Unesco, Colombia
  7. Amnistía Internacional, Global
  8. Articulación Feminista Marcosur, América Latina y El Caribe
  9. Artículo 19 Oficina para México, Centroamérica y el Caribe, Global
  10. Asociación de Investigación y Especialización sobre temas Iberoamericanos, Global
  11. Asociación Feminista La Cuerda, Guatemala
  12. Asociación Mujeres Transformando, El Salvador
  13. Asociación Nuevo Amanecer de El Salvador ANADES, El Salvador
  14. Associação Mulheres pela Paz, Brasil
  15. Association for Progressive Communications, Global
  16. Asuntos del Sur, América Latina
  17. AWID, Global
  18. Calala Fondo de Mujeres, España
  19. Campaña 28 de Septiembre por la Despenalización y Legalización del Aborto en América Latina y El Caribe, América Latina y El Caribe
  20. Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito, Argentina
  21. Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir - Colombia, Colombia
  22. CEAR-Euskadi, Euskal Herria / País Vasco
  23. Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional - CEJIL, América Latina y el Caribe
  24. Centro de Derechos Reproductivos, Global
  25. Chikume Siwat, Feministas Universitarias, El Salvador 
  26. Ciberfeministas Guatemala, Guatemala
  27. Ciberseguras, México, Brasil, Chile, Guatemala, Colombia
  28. CNCD-11.11.11, Bélgica
  29. Código Sur, Centroamérica
  30. Colectiva Amorales, El Salvador
  31. Colectiva de Mujeres Periodistas, Comunicadoras y Trabajadoras de la Información (CMPCTI), El Salvador
  32. Colectiva de mujeres Venus, El Salvador
  33. Colectiva por el Derecho a Decidir, Costa Rica
  34. COLECTIVO ANSUR, Colombia-América Latina
  35. Colectivo Editorial Marcha Noticias, Argentina 
  36. Colectivo Josefa Lastiri, Honduras
  38. Colectivo Rebeldía, Bolivia
  39. COMCAVIS TRANS , El Salvador
  40. Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de las Mujeres CLADEM, LAC
  41. Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO.), Internacional
  42. COTIDIANO MUJER, Uruguay
  43. Derechos Digitales, América Latina
  44. El Churo Comunicación, Ecuador, América Latina
  45. ELA - Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género, Argentina
  46. Entrepueblos/Entrepobles/Entrepobos/Herriarte, Estado español
  47. Equidad de Género, Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia, México
  48. Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación, Honduras
  49. Equipo Jurídico por los Derechos Humanos, Honduras 
  50. ESCRITURA CRÓNICA, Argentina
  51. FIDH, en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Global
  52. Fondo de Acción Urgente para America Latina y el Caribe Hispanohablante, América Latina y el Caribe 
  53. Forum Syd, Global
  54. Fundación Acceso, Centroamérica 
  55. Fundación Activismo Feminista Digital, Argentina/América Latina
  56. Fundación Cristosal, Centroamérica
  57. Fundación Datos Protegidos, Chile
  58. Fundación Desafío, Ecuador
  59. Fundación Huaira, Global
  60. Hiperderecho, Perú
  61. ICCPG, Guatemala 
  62. ICID (Iniciativas de Cooperación Internacional para el desarrollo), España
  63. IFEX-ALC, Alianza Regional
  64. IM - Swedish development partner, Global
  65. Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras), Mesoamérica
  66. IPANDETEC Centroamérica, Panamá
  67. IUDOP-UCA, El Salvador 
  68. JASS Mesoamérica, Mesoamérica
  69. Jóvenes Voceras y Voceros en Derechos Sexuales y Derechos Reproductivos, El Salvador 
  70. Laboratorio de Periodismo y Opinión Pública, México
  71. LaLibre.net Tecnologías Comunitarias, Ecuador
  72. LATFEM, Argentina
  73. Luchadoras MX, México
  74. Mesa por el Derecho a Defender DDHH, El Salvador
  75. Movimiento Centroamericano 2 de Marzo, Centroamérica y Sudamérica
  76. Movimiento de Mujeres de Santo Tomás, El Salvador
  77. Mulier, Venezuela
  78. Ni Una Menos, Costa Rica
  79. Ojos de Perro vs la Impunidad, A.C., México
  80. OMCT - Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura, en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Global
  81. ONG Amaranta, Chile
  82. Probusqueda, El Salvador 
  83. Protection International Mesoamérica, Mesoamérica
  84. Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales A.C - ProDESC México
  85. R3D: Red en defensa de los derechos digitales, México / Latinomérica
  86. Red de Hondureñas Migradas, España
  87. Red de Mujeres de Matagalpa, Nicaragua
  88. Red de mujeres periodista de Morelos, México y Morelos 
  89. Red de Periodistas Feministas de América latina y el Caribe, América Latina y el Caribe 
  90. Red de Periodistas Feministas de Chile, Chile
  91. Red europea de Comités Oscar Romero, Unión europea
  92. Red Internacional de Periodistas con Visión de Género, Global
  93. Red Internacional de Periodistas con Visión de Género de Argentina, Argentina
  94. Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de DDHH, El Salvador 
  95. Revista Feminista Muy Waso, Bolivia
  96. Segudigital, México-América Latina
  97. Servicio Social Pasionista, El Salvador 
  98. Servicios Humanitarios en Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, Latinoamérica y Caribe
  99. Sursiendo, Comunicación y Cultura Digital, Mesoamérica
  100. Taller de comunicación mujer, Ecuador
  101. TEDIC, Paraguay
  102. Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brasil
  103. Usuarios Digitales - Ecuador, Ecuador
  104. Women's Link Worldwide, Américas, África, Europa

(1) Developed by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders and the WHRD Network in El Salvador.

(2) For more information, see: http://im-defensoras.org/es/ (Alerts on the cases of Montserrat Arévalo, Movimiento de mujeres eco-feministas de El Salvador, Camila Portillo, Bertha María DeLeón, Yaneth Estrada y Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto).

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